Bike Odyssey 2010 – The Benefit Event

the following is editor’s self-assessment of the bike odyssey benefit 2010. maintained here for posterity, indeed.

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Well, the Bike Odyssey Benefit show is finally over. I want to review this process to see what went well, and what needs work. Debriefing and evaluation is all part of the learning process that will make future events more manageable and successful. I will refer to this list when any future projects or efforts come to pass.

IN A NUTSHELL: I can throw a good party, but I’ll be damned if I can make it affordable. I have yet to succeed financially in any major fund-raising effort I start; this was no exception. At least the food and bands were excellent.

VENUE: The natural choice was [the community center]. I volunteer there several times a month; the space is definitely large enough to accommodate the guests; the shelter is on the property. I’ve a good working relationship with the regular organizers, and developing the proposal and guiding it through acceptance was a breeze. In being a steward for the space, I have keys and open access to all needed rooms in the building.

RAFFLE: I sent out 70 or so requests for raffle donations; I ended up having 6 raffle items. The good news is that I definitely had enough prizes relative to the attendance for the event. However, the prizes lacked the diversity I wanted (two of the six were from bowling alleys), and I wanted more of a response over all. I’m not going to blame this lack of effectiveness on the sorry state of the economy; I can’t really address that on my own. But I realize I hadn’t followed best practices in doing this. Some suggestions to improve the response rate on this front include:

  • more response time. Sending out the letters earlier will give recipients more time to mull it over. I actually had a recipient who wanted to donate, but they had received the letter late and ended up not bringing me the donation in time. I think this abbreviated response window was a major factor, and it’s definitely within my realm of control. Give recipients a month, at least. I feel I personally slacked on this, because it’s unfamiliar territory for me; that’s reason enough to spend extra attention on it in the future.
  • approach people in person to solicit donations. I am personally not comfortable with this method, but I have been told it’s a dramatic improvement over simply sending out letters. To make this successful, I will have to recruit someone else (or several someone elses) to do it for me. I do not like being a commission-driven salesperson.
  • emphasize businesses I know and appreciate already. The flip side of disliking sales tactics is that I tend to be very loyal and steadfast in my own sense of “brand loyalty.” I have local businesses I always support, whom I visit frequently, places with servers I always tip well in particular restaurants, etc. In essence, I may be able to “trick” myself into soliciting these businesses face-to-face in an effort to acquire donations in the space of normal conversation.

One ticket was included with admission; additional tickets could be purchased for $2 each, or 3 for $5. This seemed appropriate.

ENTERTAINMENT: This was great and bad simultaneously. I had three acts lined up for the evening, which was plenty. Then another act called on the organizers of [the community center] and asked if they could jump in on a bill for a locally-driven show. They’d been wanting to play there for a while, and they are an interesting band in a similar vein to the other acts I’d booked, so I figured we could fit them in without a problem.

Unfortunately, it made the other acts much too pressed for time. The event ran over time as well, which for various reasons is a major no-no at that space. The extra band sounded fantastic, and they turned out to be a bunch of really cool guys and superb musicians…Logistically it was a bad move.

How to solve this? There are a couple ways to approach it.

  • Hardline the band lineup. Say no to last-minute requests after planning is complete.
  • Have additional people in a tech role to assist bands and facilitate change-over so that time is maximized.
  • Start the event earlier. It would be easy to have an event like this in the same space, but on a weekend instead. That would result in an earlier start time, and more flex time for performers.

DRINKS: we acquired a temp liquor license for the event, which was helpful. I received no alcohol donations, so I had to purchase the alcohol myself; there’s still some leftover, and I ended up not including the drink take in with the rest of the funds for the shelter, and so I’ve paid myself back for it. But the arrangement worked well. I actually copied it from a previous event: Attendees receive a “drink ticket” as part of admission, and drop off the drink tickets at the bar to have a beer or wine. If they want another drink, they simply purchase another drink ticket (from a nearby table) and drop it off at the bar. This keeps the bartender from having to worry about making change, and lets them focus on slinging the drinks.

I used little plastic cowboys and indians as drink tickets too, which seemed to go over well. Drink tickets cost $2 each; this worked out well, as there was wine (red or white) and beer (Natty Boh). There are two and a half bottles of wine and maybe a 12-pack of Boh leftover (out of eight bottles and six 12-packs). This is a fair overhead, especially considering I have a lot of drinking friends and I’ve made my money back.

ADMISSIONS: I set admissions as a sliding scale ranging from $6 to $10. This seemed appropriate for the event. I included entertainment, complimentary food, one drink, and one raffle ticket with admission. There was a special discount rate of $5 for those who brought in a donation of towels, bed linens, or underwear for the shelter.

Although the financial take wasn’t impressive, I can’t complain. It’s in line with estimated attendance, when factoring in the donations received as part of it. I may consider revising this price plan in the future, but at this point it seems about right. I doubt admission price was a discouraging factor for those who didn’t come.

FOOD: I think this went over great. I wanted to keep things simple, as I’d received only one food donation (bread from a local bakery). I think I had just woken up from a night’s sleep—or maybe it was just as I had settled down for the night—when I decided to go with “bicycling food” as the offerings.

By “bicycling food,” I mean food that would be eaten by cyclists while on a long bike trip. I had a “PB&J sandwich station” where people could make their own sandwiches. There was also fresh fruit—apples, oranges, and bananas—and an assortment of granola bars. I incorporated the bread donation into the bread used for the sandwiches, so it’s not gone to waste. There was complimentary water and pink lemonade (brewed on-site in a large decorative decanter).

We had plates and spreading knives from the shelter kitchen, so there was no excess waste of paper plates and plastic flatware. Serving platters were also supplied from the kitchen stores. We did spend time washing up at the end of the night, but I think that was a better alternative to producing excess trash.

I succeeded in providing relatively healthy food choices, and I heard no complaints. I’m very happy with the food situation. The key to its success is that while it fit with the theme, it was still very simple and low-maintenance. People dug into it, and it was all delicious nutritious food. I didn’t want to resort to “pretzels and chips,” so I’m very happy with all of it. Best of all, I’ll have no problem eating the leftovers.

ATTENDANCE: This was unsatisfactory. Estimated attendance was around 50 people, which includes about a dozen performers. Frankly, I wanted to see more. However, this highlights another of my weaknesses: promotion.

I don’t have a natural talent for promotions, and I’ve yet to develop the skills in place of that. I’ve a tendency to drag my feet in terms of effective solicitation techniques; this is something that needs to be eliminated if I’m to succeed in these kinds of events in the future.

There was only one other major music event that would have drawn from the same audience pool; they’re a national touring act based here in Baltimore, so that may have been significant. But again, I can’t lean on that too much; it’s out of my control, and meanwhile I readily admit that I have shortcomings in this area.

PROMOTION: This is probably the only good thing that has come out of Facebook: promoting events to your friends and acquaintances online, for free. I invited over 200 people to this event myself, and more were added to the invite list by other attendees. As a result, I think over 500 people knew about this event happening last night.

A good friend of mine also composed a truly beautiful poster design, and I was sure to move that around as soon as it was done. I edited the original in Photoshop to add in times, admission, and other necessary info, and then made about 100 copies.

The bookstore/cafe that partners with the venue has a “dedicated flier person,” who has taken it upon themselves to distribute fliers for upcoming events related to the bookstore/cafe and [the community center]. I don’t really go out much (or if I do, it’s to a handful of out-of-the-way places, and in any case not clubs or other places the posters would be distributed), so I have no idea where they all went. Again, I personally avoid this kind of action anyway, so anything that someone else has done would be better than I would do myself.

That being said, I would prefer having a person dedicated specifically to the event, savvy enough to visit the various establishments in town, creatively soliciting some flier space in these worthwhile places.

PLEDGE PER MILE PROGRAM: I developed the PPM program in an effort to further link the bike ride itself to the shelter benefit. The main idea behind it is that people will pledge to donate money as long as we finish the ride to the shore. In return for donating to the shelter, donors will receive a thank-you gift. There are different gifts based on the amount donated to the shelter. For example, a donation of $5 earns the donor an Ocean City shot glass; $25 earns them a pound of fudge or salt water taffy; the biggest gift (me having my photo taken at one of those old-timey photo places, while dressed as a can-can girl) is set at $100. This level has already been claimed…I reckon I need to follow through with it now!

One thing I need to make clear about this for myself is that I must pay myself back from the donation funds for any thank-you gifts I purchase. This is regardless of the amount of donations I receive. I know I’ll be tempted to say “Ah, what the hell,” and simply give all the money to the shelter, particularly if the amount of donations is less than I want. I literally cannot afford to do that; it will be very expensive, and it’s basically like me giving more of my own money to the shelter instead of other people. I’ve personally spent somewhere close to $300 on this event, and I’ll have spent plenty more by the time the bike trip is finished. Someone else can foot that bill.

There’s a lot of potential in this program, and judging on how short I am of my $1000 goal I will need to test that potential. Steady marketing and promotion is what will make it work; I’ll need to step up my game in these areas to ensure success.

NEXT STEPS: In Summary: Press the Pledge-Per-Mile Program heavily until we leave for the bike trip. Train on my bicycle with the rest of the team. Eat well, stay healthy, and reduce stress.

THE BOTTOM LINE: I have a goal of $1000 in combined cash and supplies donations. I’m almost at the halfway point. The “Pledge-Per-Mile” program might push us over the top, but that remains to be seen. Final numbers will be tallied about a month and a half from now, once the bike trip itself is complete.

UPDATE: After speaking with one of the chief organizers of [the community center], I feel somewhat better about the lack of response and generated funds. I’ve been told that as far as shelter fundraisers go, I had done relatively well. There had been several fundraisers in the past, I’d been told, with absolutely dismal turnouts and negligible amounts of funds raised. So I don’t feel it was a waste of time, actually, when seen strictly from a monetary point of view. In any case, I’ll pass my final judgment when all pledges have been collected and the final cash value of the fundraising effort has been tallied.

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